Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Bachelors Galore (1958)

Let me save you some time.
It doesn't quite live up the the name.
Nothing could ever live up to the name.

Philip Griffiths, your standard-issue tall-bronzed-Kiwi-sheep-farmer, is having a miserable day. He's 13,000 miles from home and tasked with keeping the expectations of every flibberty-gibbet London lass looking to emigrate nice and manageable. What doesn't help? Headlines like this:

BACHELORS GALORE: 
AN ASTOUNDING SURPLUS OF ELIGIBLE 
BACHELORS IN NEW ZEALAND
(Giphy)
Philip knows only too well about the hard life of a struggling sheep farmer, the expense of stocking a station and...let us all pause dramatically...The Perfidy of Women. And so, after a day of taking call after call from breathless, giggling typists, it's the absolute limit when one lands in the lobby of New Zealand House, positively gleeful over the headline.

Marty Reddington (Martha Mary) has had her emigration papers in for more than a year but has packed none of the emotional baggage that Philip is carrying around. She just popped up the Commonwealth Mile with her besties so that they could reassure themselves that they--really and truly--don't mind leaving everything near and dear to them. It's just her bad luck that Philip overhears her silly joke and unleashes his full fury, branding her a fortune hunter. Shed a tear for Marty. She is a sweet little bunny hopping across the darkened interstate highway of his heart.

Good thing that she will never see him again.

Her heart must have dropped right through her sensible deck shoes when she sees that he's actually on her departing ship. Do you know how long it takes to travel from England to New Zealand by ship? Eight weeks, y'all. Eight weeks. And Liaison Officer Grumpy-Pants is going to be there for every nautical mile.

This is the part of the review where I tell you that I suspect Bachelors Galore was commissioned by the New Zealand Chamber of Commerce (or its Kiwi equivalent). Essie Summers is OUR Liaison Officer as she feeds us little tips and tidbits about adjusting to life in NZ. What to expect shipboard? Check. Maori pronunciation guide? Check. Traffic regulations? Check. Farming habits? Check. Great swaths of this book only make sense if you realize that Essie was educating people who only had the vaguest ideas about New Zealand. I mean, The Lord of the Rings hadn't even been filmed yet.  Dark days, indeed.

Now everyone knows that the islands are ruled
by a jewelry-obsessed, all-seeing eye.
(Giphy)
Marty tries to keep out of Philip's way but the ship is only so big. As they work together, she gets to see that he is conscientious with the passengers. And he gets to see that she is unfailingly generous with her time and efforts. That doesn't stop them from taking more cheap shots at each other than a co-ed in Cabo.

At one of the social dances, she wears a lilac dress associated with a broken engagement because, when one is a London typist, one can't afford gestures like lighting semi-formal ballgowns on fire. Still, she looks beautiful and knows it and, moreover, begins to weave some dreams about a certain Liaison Officer, wishing his lips would liaison with hers, maybe. Philip is nothing if not punctilious in his duty.

No use denying that he is shaken by the kiss. She is too. And in an atmosphere like that, it might be good to drop the pretense of cynicism and do a little plain dealing of the sort even a 5th grader can manage. ("I like you. Do you like me too? Check yes or no.")

Instead, he is insulting. "You see?" he said, and his voice was harsh. "Even anyone forewarned and forearmed as I was can be bowled over by a girl in a lilac frock, under a tropical moon..." Go ahead, moron. Blame the moon and the frock and Marty's impressive powers of attraction. Tell her she should have gone on a better class of ship to catch a richer class of man...

"You, sir, are no Muir Buchanan!"
(Giphy)
Philip tries to blame everybody but himself and the impossible attraction he feels for someone he knows he shouldn't. Bless her heart though, Essie Summers doesn't give us a heroine who bursts into tears at the first sign of Manly Wrath. Marty gives back as good as she gets, puts him firmly in the wrong and wrings a strangled "I'm sorry" from him before leaving him to contemplate All the Ways He Was Raised Poorly on the boat deck.

But she's not made of iron and she finally allows herself to fall to pieces when she gets to her room. She rips the dress from her body, balls it up and flings it out of the porthole where, presumably, it will sink into the Mariana Trench of Pathos.

They might be sailing through the Caribbean but it's icebergs, right ahead. Somewhere in here she owns up to his ideas of her. If he thinks she's hunting for deep pockets, then that's what she'll admit to. In Panama, the padre asks her a favor. Will she go with Philip on a pilgrimage, of sorts? His father is buried there and...

Well, yes. You'd do that even for someone you hated and Marty doesn't hate Philip. She's not sure what she feels about him. She finds out that his mother left his father. Mommy Dearest still lives in California with her new husband, having abandoned Philip when he was 11. This is a lot to take in.

(As an Oregonian,  I was bred with an in-born hostility to all things California (always excepting my dearest husband!) so I am already super mad at his mom. Oh Philip, you poor baby!)

As they steam into Wellington Harbor, Marty receives her two-year work assignment. Finally, she can get away from the watchful eyes of Philip Griffiths. What's that you say? She's assigned to the farm NEXT DOOR? And she'll be driving down to the station with the admittedly hot raspberry seed that has been stuck in her wisdom tooth for months now?

Unfortunately, the distance between his farm and the Logie farm (her assignment) is small. Worse, Len and Joy Logie have been in a calamitous car smash. (Someday in the distant future, I imagine our literary history will be cataloged by an alien race and when they get to mid-century Mills & Boon, they'll decide to pass on conquering the peoples of Earth. They have had enough.) When Philip decides that Marty will be worse than useless taking over a remote sheep station and the care of the children of the house, she makes him drive her there anyway. This is her responsibility and, by gum, she is not going to shift it off to someone else.

For a while, everything goes perfectly. The children are nurtured, the house is cleaned, meals of great nutritional value are made and consumed. And then all hell breaks loose. Maybe I should say it's 'turned loose'. Marty, not a farm girl, lets the cows into a paddock of green clover where they eat their heads off and develop 'bloat' which is not something you can solve with a bowl of Marionberry Yoplait. (Gah.)  In the midst of this gas-tastrophe, the way-loaded and conveniently unattached vet with the amiable mother and rich family history (Morgan Hervington-Blair of THE Hervington-Blairs) comes to help and casts an eye on our distressed heroine.

If this was a Harlequin Presents book, I would be getting a little nervous.
No one is supposed to out-Alpha the Alpha who wins the hand of the fair maiden.
Marty's crappy day has not crapped its last crap, however. She let the ducklings into the pond. Yum. The eels in the pond love to snack on ducklings.

Is there anything crappier than being the potential murderess of fluffy ducklings? I'm glad you asked. Into this Domestic Crisis of Confidence comes strolling terrifyingly gorgeous ex-flame and former fiancee Louise Morgan (dun, Dun, DUH!). She flashes her massive wedding ring, eyerolls our Pitiful Dislocated British Girl and oozes sympathy all over Philip for having to put up with someone who's obviously stupid.

It is alright, however. Marty rallies her spirits, eventually welcomes Len and Joy back to their well-tended home and well-adjusted children and then begins to lay waste to the surrounding countryside, collecting the interest of every man in the district.

 All those bachelors? There are galore of them. 
(Giphy)
Philip introduces her to every one of them but at least, when he is alone at night, he will have the warm embrace of his barbs which he tosses at her feet with deadly aim. But if he were being really honest with himself, he might admit that the battle has scarred him far more than it has wounded her. "She looked up and caught a glint of amusement in his eyes, and hated him for it. 'For a minister's daughter...you hit hard...and quite often, below the belt, too.'"

That's what she hugs on those lonely nights--the knowledge that, if he has been unkind (prodding her always to deny she is on the lookout for a wealthy husband and a life of ease), she has had the perfect retort every time. The mask hasn't slipped. Her cold dignity is intact.

As Morgan Hervington-Blair of THE Hervington-Blairs gets a bit more serious, Marty is taken up by Noel West--the biggest fish circling the tank. He's got all his original hair and teeth, an insane amount of money and he's hiding a secret heart-ache. The man could use a companionable escort and she...well, she could too. Marty can't risk getting paired up with Philip (too many people are quick to throw her at his head) and doesn't want to hurt Morgan. So...Noel it is.

Noel was the Godzilla of Alphas.
Sometimes, even given the safety of Noel, Marty is thrown together with Philip anyway. It is on one such occasion, as they are driving through town, that his breaks squeal and he stops near the curb. There's a lovely lavender gown in the window and would she allow him to make a gift of it for her? (Oh Essie, you absolute genius. She's about as much as what's on the page as what's off.) We find out that Philip has been tortured since that night on the boat deck by the cruel things he said and the dress that he watched go overboard. It had been explained to him how she could not afford such a gesture and then she went and did it.

Stiffly, she declines to let him wipe his conscience clean with a bit of money but he is terribly hurt behind that Stoic Face. Marty is slipping away from him and there is nothing he can do about it...or is there? Like a timid first-time visitor to the casino dithering over the roulette table and then cautiously laying down a single chip on red, he offers her a semi-proposal and a promise of sharing a conjugal bed. Would Marty mind joining forces? They'd both be wise to each other's motives.

It's easy to take this as the insult it appears to be. But consider: Philip, the product of a failed union which dissolved in part because of money and an engagement that gave up the ghost for similar reasons, still can't resist her. He loves her too much and now he'll take her on any terms at all. As bet-hedging as it appears, he's offering to ruin himself for her.

But Marty isn't going to take anyone who isn't shoving all their chips in on 23 red like a madman. Particularly not one who isn't left as weak-kneed about the prospect of sharing the confines of a double bed as she is. She'll stick to the safe company of Noel if she can't get what she wants. As a chaser, she suggests he stop running after married women.

Finally, the Logies and Phillip all go on vacation together which makes me really concerned that all their cows will be milked properly. Marty and Philip ease into each other's company in a way that leads her to hope that maybe the icebergs are thawing as simple family picnics and grubbing around at the lakeside are activities calculated to warm even the most Grinch-i-est of hearts.

Louise and her Pack of Dissipated Drunks (as well as her amiable, balding, gazillionaire husband) shows up to rain fire and destruction all over moonlit hand-holding and whispered confessions. In an aside I just don't have time to go into, Marty acts as Tod the Troubled Tycoon's agony aunt and tells him that all Louise really needs is a firm hand and that he should stop measuring himself against Philip who has "...got everything...magnificent shoulders, a powerful jawline, attractive, clean cut features...the real picture of a bronzed colonial...the looks of a Greek god..."

After that description,
even Tod the Tubby Trillionaire was fanning himself.

(Giphy)
Philip, lurking in the dark as Tod toddles away, has heard the whole thing. They sort of have a row but I'm not sure what it could be about. That she dared comfort a Cheerless Capitalist? That she offered Tod a way to secure the affection of his wife? That she underlined over and over again that Philip's scorching hot looks aren't the thing that matters?

Back at the farm, several plots intersect and, in the interest of time I will bullet point them:

  • Noel the Brooding Billionaire reunites with his lost love (Good thing Marty turned his "Let's be Sad Together" proposal down!) and they make a date to be married.
  • Tod loses all his money. This would be calamitous but Louise, instead of crawling back to the fetid swamp that curated her winning personality, grows a spine and, as a phoenix rising from the ashes of her life, becomes a really cracking wife. Turns out she loves Tod. Financial Ruin is like a new Dior dress and she wears it wonderfully.
  • News of Noel's Nuptials leaks in the community.
  • A tractor accident at another farm sends Marty riding pell-mell across the paddocks to properly tourniquet a hemorrhage.
Philip and all the Logie's sort of assume that her sorrow over Noel has sent her riding dangerously into the mountains and when she returns, covered in blood and exhausted, everyone is thrilled she's alive but quick to assume that she was gripped by Paroxysms of Grief.  

Those were the wrong paroxysms to be worried about. Rage Paroxysms are much worse. When she gets to the bottom of Philip's worry she lays into him about how those things she said at New Zealand House were all a silly joke and that she would never marry anyone for money and that she not only knew about Noel's new wife, but acted as her bridesmaid. 

Philip is nothing if not poorly timed. As soon as he finds out she doesn't love Noel, he proposes. 

Marty shoots first.
(Giphy)
It goes poorly. He leaves and Marty and Joy have the sort of air-clearing talk everybody should have had 120 pages ago. Marty loves Philip but his money will always stand between them. "What money, girlfriend?" asks Joy. "Dude is so poor he's still living in half a house." Oh thank heavens, Marty thinks. I'll just ride breakneck over to his farm right now.


Thankfully, everyone can just stay put where they are. Philip is an eavesdropper who only ever seems to hear good of himself. He makes another proposal of marriage and, this time, she accepts.

Philip laid all his worldly goods at her feet...
several of them were slimy baby lambs.

Rating: A Flash Flood (7/10). Bachelors Galore is a solid effort that sometimes veers into Informational Pamphlet territory. I'm not going to lie, some of that information was really interesting but it tended to lay there like a cow patty--enormously useful but you'll have to step carefully around it to get where you're going. I liked Philip--he'd had a rough first impression of Marty that was perfectly calculated to jab all of his insecurities in the eye with a sharp stick--but I wished that he had been less relentlessly baiting. His only tool for getting what he wants is to throw his accusation at her head so that MAYBE she'll deny it. Of course, when he baits Marty, that makes her dig in even more firmly.

Marty is hard-working (that should have been his first clue that she was not out for money), resourceful and perfect for being a farmer's wife. About halfway through the book I kept getting annoyed for her sake. She just gave up everything she holds dear and left it 13,000 miles away you guys! (And if there's nothing she felt bad about leaving, so much the worse. That's super tragic.) If it were me, I'd need three solid months of Snuggling and Ego Massage. I assume Philip will build a room just for that sort of thing in his unfinished house.

Essie did a fantastic thing when she piled a lot of good works on top of both their characters so that I wasn't ever willing to dust my hands of them. They both pitch in to help the Logies out of the Car Smash Mess and seem in their element when they're helping out. Also, the way she goes on and on about his looks tell me that prospects for Satisfactory Conjugal Relations are good.

(Giphy)

Location: Near Rakaia on the Canterbury Plains

The Misunderstanding: He thinks she is out to snag a husband with money. She thinks he is possibly having an affair with a married woman.


4 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this book, and the review of course. Philip was certainly interesting, to say the least. His behavior towards Marty should have made me hate him, but Essie Summers did a good job of laying out his reasons for distrusting her, one at a time. He's horrible, Marty would fume, and the minister would then tell her about the runaway mother. He's terrible, Marty would think, and she'd realize how he was left alone when just a young man. He's nasty, she would think, and somebody else would pile on yet another explanation. It shouldn't work, but it does.

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    1. All I had to do was picture him living by himself in a shepherd's hut at 15 and I would have forgiven him anything. But it was awesome of Essie Summers to make them both such worthwhile people. They may SAY awful things but they DO often wonderful things.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this review. So funny. I haven't read the novel, but this is the kind of book I would love to have. I love it when the hero & heroine engage in verbal fights.
    A Veronica who loves her "her amiable, balding, gazillionaire husband" - that's wonderful! That was well done of Essie.

    But you should really place a warning at the top of your reviews:

    NO FOOD OR DRINK WHILE READING
    or
    EATING OR DRINKING WHILE READING MIGHT BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR & YOUR COMPUTER'S HEALTH

    Looking forward to the next review! 🍕

    P. S.: Where can I order those Harlequin Presents? 😉

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  3. Now this one seems more to my taste than 'Heatherleigh'. I may have to keep my eyes open for a copy.
    Great review!

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